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Conflict and Hunger

Expected Council Action

In March, at the initiative of the Council president, the Netherlands, the Council is expected to hold a high-level briefing on conflict and hunger. Possible briefers include representatives of the UN’s Rome-based agencies.

Key Recent Developments

In response to a 21 February 2017 letter from Secretary-General António Guterres to member states, the Security Council began focusing considerable attention last year on the risk of famine facing a number of conflict situations on its agenda—north-eastern Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. In his letter, Guterres highlighted the global food crisis and warned that without decisive action, 20 million people in these four countries were at risk of famine.

Council members sought to respond to this warning, organising an Arria-formula session on the risk of famine in these countries on 16 June 2017. The Council then adopted a presidential statement on 9 August 2017 that expressed grave concern about the threat of famine presently facing Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and north-east Nigeria. The statement deplored the failure of certain parties in these conflicts to ensure unfettered and sustained access for deliveries of vital food assistance and other aid, and called on member states to provide resources and funding to avert famine.

In October 2017, Guterres briefed the Council on progress towards addressing the famine risks in these countries, an update that the Council had requested in its August statement. The Secretary-General described a scaled-up humanitarian response that had managed to keep famine “at bay”. This included donors having delivered on nearly 70 percent of funding requirements for relief efforts. The number of people at risk, however, had increased, which included, according to Guterres, an additional 5 million severely food insecure people in South Sudan since the start of 2017. Guterres noted that of the 815 million people globally suffering from hunger, 60 percent “live in the shadow of conflict”.

Concerns over the risk of famine in Yemen were elevated in November 2017 when the Saudi Arabia-led coalition imposed a complete blockade of the country following the 4 November firing of a ballistic missile by Houthi rebels towards Riyadh. Yemeni government-controlled entry points were re-opened after one week, but the coalition did not restore access to the rebel-held Hodeidah port, through which around 70 percent of Yemeni imports pass, until 26 November. The coalition has since announced that Hodeidah would remain open for 30-day periods and allowed in January delivery of World Food Programme (WFP)-procured cranes to replace those destroyed by airstrikes, after having prevented the delivery for a year. A January report by the Panel of Experts monitoring the Yemen sanctions regime described the blockade as “using the threat of starvation as an instrument of war”, and recommended that the Security Council call on the Saudi-led coalition not to misuse the Council-mandated arms embargo as a justification to obstruct the delivery of essential goods and humanitarian aid. The report also described access constraints and diversion of aid inside Yemen by the Houthis.

Meanwhile, in north-eastern Nigeria, a significantly increased humanitarian response over the course of 2017 saw a reduction in the number of people facing food insecurity from 5.1 million to 3.9 million. At the launch of the UN’s 2018 humanitarian response plan for north-east Nigeria on 8 February, UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria Edward Kallon noted that an estimated 930,000 people are in areas that are hard to access because of insecurity. In Somalia, a drought continues, along with violent conflict, to create food insecurity for more than half the population, according to the 2018 humanitarian response plan for the country. On 26 February, the WFP, the United Nations Children’s Fund and the Food and Agriculture Organisation warned that 7.1 million people in South Sudan—nearly two-thirds of the population—could become severely food insecure in the coming months.

Key Issues and Options

The upcoming session is being organised to follow up last October’s Council briefing on the four countries that are threatened by famine. The meeting, however, is not meant to be limited to these four countries. It is intended to also consider more broadly a trend in food insecurity linked to conflict, and to raise awareness of international laws and norms to protect civilian populations from hunger and food insecurity during war. According to last year’s inter-UN agency report The State of Food Security and Nutrition, the increase in global food insecurity, in which 2017 recorded the most food insecure people since 2000, can be traced to the greater number of conflicts, often exacerbated by climate-related shocks. The report further states that “conflict is a key driver of situations of severe food crisis”.

Key issues include obstacles to humanitarian access and ensuring compliance with international humanitarian law. Other factors that contribute to hunger in conflict are threats to food sources, such as infrastructure for delivering food and insecurity from fighting that hinders access to farmland; while underlying fragilities, such as climate change, underdevelopment and poverty, make some countries in conflict more vulnerable to hunger crises. In considering the link between conflict and hunger, another issue that may be raised is how food insecurity can create tensions that lead to conflict.

While no specific Council product is envisioned for this session, issuing a Council statement reaffirming the prohibition on starving civilians during conflict, and the obligations of parties to armed conflict to comply with international humanitarian law could be an option.

Council Dynamics

There have been some divergent views among members about the role of the Council in addressing the issue of hunger and famine in conflict situations. Russia initially objected to the presidential statement eventually adopted in August, feeling the issue was not appropriate for the Council. Several other members during negotiations on the statement also raised concerns about over-emphasising the link between conflict and famine at the expense of other contributing factors.

The P3, Sweden, and last year’s African Council members (Egypt, Ethiopia and Senegal) were among the co-sponsors of the Arria-formula session that initiated Council efforts to more broadly consider the risk of famine facing some of the conflict situations it was seized with. Sweden initiated and served as penholder for the presidential statement.

UN DOCUMENTS ON CONFLICT AND HUNGER

Security Council Presidential Statements
9 August 2017 S/PRST/2017/14 This was on the threat of famine in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and north-east Nigeria.
Security Council Meeting Records
12 October 2017 S/PV.8069 This was a briefing by Secretary-General António Guterres on “country-specific impediments to an effective response to the risk of famine in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and northeast Nigeria”.
10 March 2017 S/PV.7897 This was a briefing on the humanitarian situation in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Lake Chad Basin.
Other
26 January 2018 S/2018/68 This was the final report of the Yemen Panel of Experts.

Additional Useful Resource

The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2017. Building resilience for peace and food security. FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO, 15 September 2017.

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